This is Wonderland, a society that is divided into four factions. I'll let you pause to think over what those could be in a place like this. Time's up. It's the Hearts, Spades, Clubs and Diamonds. The Hearts are the big leaders, or at least the king is. His daughter Dinah is the rightful heir and is what you would call the Red Queen, but Helena Bonham Carter playing her in a movie adaptation of this book would be out of the question. Before I go any further, the Spades are like these rebels, these guys that get on the Hearts nerves so they paint them in terrible lights. The Clubs are those that enforce rules and the diamonds are those that work most diligently and closely with those in power, like the Hearts. And Dinah's father is overpowering, silencing her and her mentally ill mad hatter-making adorable and innocent little brother Charles on even the slightest opinion of their own, and when Dinah ends up with a strange note and a new sister she had no part in, it's time to see if she can have an identity of her own without being pushed back down.
When I go to a bookstore or library, while every book in the Teens section dares me to read it, a few things can stop me. Whether I like it or not, I can't read everything and I have movies to watch, homework, other books to read. And I have two reasons why I decided to pick up Queen of Hearts. First, after spending 2 weeks reading Wayfarer, I wanted something I could zip through quickly, and this book has a style that has 19-21 lines per page while the average book I read has 27-30, structured like Kathleen Hale's No One Else Can Have You series. Also, a few years ago I read Splintered, another Alice in Wonderland retelling that had more to do with Alice herself, and while I originally awarded it 3 stars, I ended up changing it to a 2 and a half because despite some very eccentric story ideas and colourful settings through its words, there were many hiccups and confusion that caused it to be kind of putdownable, but after Alice Through the Looking Glass became my favourite film of the past year, I wanted to go back into an Alice book. And I made the right choice. I devoured this book in less than three days and it had me up late during two nights.
Is it something we've never seen before? No. The king, and Dinah's own father, sees his daughter as disposable, and we get actions from him that are so cruel it's almost unbelievable how someone could be so inhuman. But its cover is fabulous, as is Oakes' inventive society of cards. And I thought Looney Tunes: Back in Action's King-sized-diamond-Queen-of-Diamonds joke was the best. In a world like Wonderland, I can see a government like this taking shape.
Admittedly, I'm not entirely sure how that system would work. Would it be like a bunch of religions with all who are born devout to the one they are born into? Because I'm sure there are more than just Clubs that are prison guards and justice enforcers and Diamonds who do more than do all the fabrics, jewelry, etc. And I found it sort of unrealistic that Dinah has never left the palace grounds in her entire life. In her defence, Oakes in some ways makes this kingdom out to almost be like a country or city as big as Hong Kong, with markets and towers and croquet tournaments. But these are things you don't really think about as you read the book because it's just so addictive, so upsetting, and hopefully we'll get some more insight of the first thing in the next two books.
Something I really enjoyed was how our protagonist is cynical. When Vittiore comes into her life, she gives no sympathy, and in one hand we scold Dinah and on the other we respect her. It was refreshing to see a girl who holds a grudge, who cares about her little brother, and who has some hesitation and fear in her that can bubble up. Dinah's the sort of imperfect protagonist that can be incapable of saving the day, but it works in this case because we see herself daring to bubble up, wanting to bubble up, wanting to be able to win something for once, and Colleen Oakes invites us with open arms onto her ride. Because of its simplicity and how actually not much happens for an entire novel, I was going to give this 3 out of 4, but I changed it to a 3 1/2 after the third act. Rarely does a book keep me invested in its ending like this one does, not wanting to go back to the real world for dinner and to finish up typing before bed, until I see what I can expect in the next one.
This is, simply, a YA book, but a light YA book. The slogan is "Evil is Rising in Wonderland" but it's not very complex. Instead, it's a book solely about Dinah and her unhappy, seemingly predetermined life. But if you're looking for a book that can erase a reading slump or a book that you can devour with no trouble whatsoever, Queen of Hearts would be one of my first choices.